JVS vying for $150,000 in national contest

The Great Recession is technically over, but for many job seekers — particularly in the Los Angeles area — it certainly doesn’t seem that way.

Los Angeles County’s unemployment rate stood at 10.2 percent in December, higher than California as a whole and far above the already steep 7.8 percent national average. And despite some signs of a hiring uptick at the end of last year, jobseekers nationally have, typically, been out of work for 35 weeks, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So, when officials at Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVS) — a local nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people find work — heard about a nationwide fundraising contest for groups like theirs, they jumped at the chance to get involved. 

The JobRaising Challenge, organized by the Skoll Foundation, which supports social entrepreneurs; The Huffington Post; and online fundraising site Crowdrise; allows selected nonprofits to compete for $250,000 in cash prizes from the Skoll Foundation by raising as much money as they can on their own. 

As of Feb. 12, JVS had raised more than $51,000 and is in second place on the fundraising ladder out of 65 organizations across the country. The competition began Jan. 21,

The money, provided by more than 80 donors as of Feb. 11, puts the 82-year-old organization on track to win the contest’s second prize of $50,000. If JVS overtakes the current organization in the lead — New York-based Venture For America Inc. — before the contest ends on March 1, it would win $150,000.

“I’m an eternal optimist. I feel hopeful we will continue at this pace,” said Randy H. Lapin, JVS’ chief philanthropy officer. “We do have some good competition out there, but we’re doing all that we can.”

The money JVS raises, along with any prize money it secures, will be used to support its career counseling and job creation programs. It will hire more staff to network with local businesses and find employment opportunities for job seekers, Lapin said. 

JVS helps a wide variety people find work, including veterans, refugees, at-risk youth, seniors and downsized professionals. Its services include training programs that allow participants to obtain entry-level jobs in the health care and banking fields. Altogether, JVS delivers services at nearly 30 sites across Southern California and helps about 30,000 people a year. Although some programs are targeted toward Jews, JVS serves people of all faiths, Lapin said.

Fundraising through an online contest is unique for JVS, Lapin said. Even though some donations are small — just $10 or $20 — the sheer number of people pledging means the money adds up to a substantial sum. This has been supplemented by others who have donated amounts as large as $10,000. Those interested in donating to JVS through the contest can go to crowdrise.com/jobraising or jvsla.org.

Robert Wolfe, co-founder of Crowdrise, said in a video announcing the JobRaising Challenge on HuffPost Live that the contest is designed to generate more money for the cause of job creation than could be achieved with a straightforward foundation grant. 

“The idea is if [organizations are] going out to their own constituents and asking them to participate as both donors and fundraisers, that we can leverage that money and turn it into … hopefully millions of dollars so these awesome nonprofits can go out and help create jobs,” he said.

The contest has also generated publicity for JVS. Participating organizations are invited to blog on The Huffington Post’s Web site, which attracts 50 million U.S. visitors a month. Arianna Huffington herself has mentioned JVS on Twitter, Lapin said. 

With the publicity and fundraising dollars generated so far, Lapin said, JVS is already feeling like a winner.